Man and Woman: Reciprocity, Not Replication
On April 22, 2015, in his Wednesday general audience, Pope Francis picked up his catechesis on the complementarity of man and woman. Last week the Holy Father spoke about the positive good of the differences between men and women.
In this address, he reflected on the second chapter of Genesis, in which man (the human person) is created and given care of the garden, and yet is alone. Man, made in the image of God, is lacking something without woman. God said that this “is not good,” suggesting that communion is lacking. And God therefore makes a “helper fit for him.”
God then creates the animals and presents them all to the man to name. Yet, none of the animals are found to be like him; none can offer him the communion for which he was made.
God then presents woman to man. Man then sees that woman, and only woman, is recognizable as another self like him: “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” Pope Francis stated that in this encounter, “Finally, there is a reflection of himself, a reciprocity.” It was this reciprocity that man was lacking when he was alone.
It is crucial to grasp, emphasized the pope, that woman is not a “replica” of man; but rather God’s direct creative gesture formed her. Nor is she inferior or subordinate, as some have taken the image of the “rib” to mean. In reality, “man and woman are of the same substance and are complementary,” said Pope Francis. Woman’s being created while man slept suggests something important, he continues: “To find woman, and we can say to find love in woman, man must first dream about her and then he finds her.”
God entrusts the earth to man and woman, presenting his generous and full trust in them. Yet, the Evil One introduced in their minds “suspicion, incredulity, mistrust and finally disobedience to the commandment that protected them.” After man and woman disobey God, their sin “contaminated everything and destroys harmony.” This disrupted harmony is something that we all feel within ourselves, the Holy Father said.
Sin is responsible for the mistrust between man and woman. Sin threatens their relationship through “ways of prevarication and submission, of deceitful seduction and humiliating arrogance, even the most dramatic and violent.” We can see its imprint within our own history. He elaborates:
Let us think, for instance, of the negative excesses of patriarchal cultures. Let us think of the many forms of machismo, where woman is considered to be second class. Let us think of the instrumentalization and merchandising of the feminine body in the present media culture. However, let us also think of the recent epidemic of mistrust, skepticism and even hostility that is spreading in our culture – in particular beginning with a comprehensible mistrust of women – in relation to an alliance between man and woman that is capable at the same time of refining the intimacy of communion and of guarding the dignity of the difference.
We must find ways of repairing the mistrust between man and woman, Pope Francis exhorts. If we cannot, then children will be born and raised in a world that is “uprooted from the maternal womb.” The devaluation of the relationship between man and woman, which is meant to be faithful and generative, is a “loss for all.” Because of this, we must bring back the honor of marriage and family. The Bible gives a profound path forward: “man is all for woman and woman is all for man.”
Believers are tasked with the care of the relationship between man and woman, who are “sinners and are wounded, confused or humiliated, mistrustful and uncertain.” Yet Genesis gives an image of a loving, caring and merciful God. After man and woman sinned against Him and came to know that they were naked, God “made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them.” Pope Francis says that this image is one of the “tenderness of God for man and for woman. It is an image of paternal custody of the human couple.” God is merciful and loving towards man and woman, truly caring for them in their needs. This is how we too are called to love and take care of the relationship between man and woman.